Monday, August 16, 2010

Von Hildebrand And West

I've mentioned before that, while I appreciate the idea of Theology of the Body, I never really saw it as all that revolutionary given that so much of it comes off as a re-hash of Dietrich von Hildebrand's work about sex, purity, and so forth.

I won't reproduce the whole thing here, but it's an interesting read.

There was also another thing. It seems like a bunch of Catholic folks in the internet realm have really hammered West hard on this stuff. Maybe I was too hard on him in prior entries as well. Some of the personal stuff that's being said about him now is really uncalled for, though. He's taken a leave to consider where he might have gotten mixed up. Nobody's perfect, and I think giving the guy the benefit of the doubt might be the charitable thing to do. Insulting him as a heretic worthy of excomming is way, way out of bounds.


Todd said...

Mark Shea had a nice article about TOB and West at Inside Catholic:

Basically telling everyone just to calm down about the controversy.

Throwback said...

Definitely a good idea. In my opinion, West's biggest mistake in his writings was not being clear where JPII's ideas ended and his own theories began.

Dan said...

Perhaps the most charitable thing that can be said of John Paul II's "theology of the body" is that it is very much like throwing gasoline on a roaring fire. And with all due respect to Mrs von Hildebrand, the Pope who offered this thing to the world was a very, very troubled man.

The very title given to this teaching is enough to illustrate the point. With a whole world veritably sodden with sex, natural and unnatural, the very last thing that needs to be done is to raise it to the level of the Eucharist, which is almost what John Paul has done. Like so many other ideas that came from this man, he abandoned the time-honored traditions and introduced ambiguous novelties which can be given any understanding a person wants depending upon what is going through that person's heart and mind. Hence, the inanities of Christopher West.

John Paul's pontificate was a disaster of the first order, a pontificate where the king did not govern, when Rome fiddled while the world burned. Papal outrage was followed by papal outrage and the Church went into greater confusion and auto-destruction than before. I do not deny that John Paul was a legitimate pontiff; I say only that he was without doubt one of the worst Popes in history.

The best advice I can give people is to ignore completely, this nonsenical "theolofgy of the body", an idea guaranteed to keep young people's minds very near to the gutter. Better that we should dust off our older catechisms and teach the truths of this very delicate subject of sex on the much higher level that was common in the past, when solid minds wrote the Catholic books and catechisms.

Throwback said...

Not sure about tagging the late Pope as "troubled." That's open to too many interpretations.

I must disagree with the bit about throwing gas on the fire. To use Billy Joel's analogy, JPII didn't start the fire. He didn't light it but he tried to fight it.

Humanae Vitae set this whole thing off. Folks who were going to leave over the Church's sexual ethics had already hit the road. The issue had to be addressed and repeating what Paul VI and every other Christian for 2000 years had been saying wasn't going to do the trick. Granted, a disciplinary crackdown to go along with this probably would have gone a long way as well.

That theology of the body raises sex to the level of the Eucharist is difficult to back up. I've read the audiences in question. I've found very little that is novel or innovative in them. Do you think that Dietrich von Hildebrand was off-base when he was saying the exact same things decades prior? Pius XII regarded him as the 20th century doctor of the Church. That has to count for something, I think.

Judging pontificates is a rough business. I'll just say that we've asked plenty of questions about JPII's reign here. I haven't gotten any answers. However, of all the stuff that I think he can be criticized for, theology of the body isn't one of them.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

I'm not too familiar with West's stuff, or von Hildebrand's for that matter; I only pick up peices here and there. But I sent von Hildebrand's wife's essay to an Opus Dei fellow I know and his reply was that she is "old school" and that there's nothing seriously wrong with West's teaching, just that his style is "too American". Any comments on this?

Throwback said...

I'm not sure what too American means, unless he's talking about a general slippage towards being too graphic and/or "crude" (maybe?) with one's discussions.

I think West has some issues. Like I said, though, lots of folks who talk about things have issues. The problem is that West mixes his stuff up with the Pope's and you don't know which is which without being familiar with the source material. Most folks aren't, so they go around talking "theology of the body" and "the Pope said" when it's just one guy's spin on the subject. That spin, IMO, is wrong on some things.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

Yes, that was pretty much what he meant: that West was a bit graphic and crude, and had been called out on that by the priest who invited him to a conference about the TotB here in Portugal back in '05, but apart from that there was nothing seriously wrong with him, and as such it would be best not to bicker among ourselves when we already have enough quarrels with those outside.